painting by Degas of a woman with a hat and a man in conversation

Questions for Reflection and Discussion – Matthew 4 12-22

We are studying Matthew 4:12-22 for Sunday, March 31. This text includes a prologue to Jesus’ ministry that presents Jesus as fulfilling a prophecy in Isaiah[*], and then tells the story of Jesus calling Simon [Peter], Andrew, James, and John. [Study notes on the text are here.]

Here are a few questions we might want to think about before or in class:

In vv15-16, Matthew presents an interpretation of Jesus’ identity, meaning and impact. He uses the language of “light,” and makes reference to death and resurrection. Who is Jesus for us? How is Jesus “light”? What do we see in that light? [We might be able to spend all our time, and more, on this question!]

In v17, Jesus proclaims the message “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” That message is very general; the action of repentance is linked to the presence of the kingdom heaven – that is, because the kingdom of heaven has come near, repentance is called for. The word translated “repent” is a word in Greek (metanoiete) that literally means “Change your mind!”

With all of that in mind: What did people need to repent of, do we think? What kind of “change of mind” was needed? Why did the kingdom of heaven require that change of mind, do we think?

What does Jesus’ call mean for us today? Do we need to repent, or change our minds? Of what, or about what? Why do we think this?

How does repentance fit into the life of a Christian? Is it something that people do once, or over and over? Why do we say this? What does our answer have to do with our understanding of what it means to “be Christian” or to “live a Christian life”?

In v18, Matthew may be introducing Jesus’ role as a teacher, which he will emphasize throughout the gospel. How is Jesus a teacher? Do we ourselves think of Jesus as a teacher? If so – what have we learned from Jesus?

How is Jesus a teacher today, or how do people learn from Jesus today?

There may be a translation issue in v19. Is there a difference between “I will make you fish for people” and “I will make you [into] fishers of people” for us? That is, do those slightly different sentences mean different things to us? What is the difference? How do we feel or what do we think about that difference? (That is, do we like one of those better? Why? Would we want one of those more? Which one? Why? Do we get different impressions from the two statements? What impressions? …)

One way to think about the story in vv18-22 is as a model for discipleship. In what way or ways is this story a model for being a disciple of Jesus’? What’s the model? Are there any ways this is not a model for being a disciple of Jesus’? Can we think of other models of discipleship (in the Bible, in history, in our experience of other Christians …)? How are those models similar to or different from the model in this story? What model or models have had the most impact on us?

[*] The history of Christian reading of Isaiah is a long and complex one. This month’s “special study of a book of the Bible” focused on Isaiah, and the readings concerned that long, complex history. That reading turned out to be relevant to thinking about this prophetic fulfillment formula in Matthew 4:15-16. I’d say “surprisingly” relevant, but upon reflection, it may not be surprising at all. In any event, my reflections on that reading are here, for those who are interested in reading a longer essay on the topic.

painting by Degas of a woman with a hat and a man in conversation

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